James Arness

  • For 20 years, James Arness, who died June 3 at 88, personified the upright western lawman Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke. By any measure, Arness's run on the show and the connection he developed with viewers over the course of a generation--not to mention simply being able to maintain interest in a character all those years--were remarkable achievements. Arness was the picture of Western rectitude, with his tall stature (he was 6 ft. 7 in., or just over 2 m), square jaw and clean-cut looks. But though Gunsmoke was a traditional TV western, you can see in Dillon the seeds of more conflicted lawmen in westerns like Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. Though the show was called Gunsmoke, Arness's Dillon--who kept his emotions in check and would not draw first--made clear that he was not trigger-happy.